French winemaker Gérard Bertrand is at the forefront of the sustainability movement in Europe, with 1,300 acres of biodynamically farmed vineyards on 13 estates. In Los Angeles to teach a master class on Monday, Jan. 22, Bertrand shared with L.A. Weekly his views on biodynamic winemaking, which he has been immersed in since 2002.
“I enjoy showing my commitment to the South of France and my dedication to biodynamic agriculture,” Bertrand told the Weekly.
As noted in Bertrand’s book Wine, Moon and Stars, biodynamic farming “views the soil as a self-contained living organism to be treated with respect and concentrates on bringing it back to health at a profound level.”
It’s “homeopathic treatment for the vines, [and] there are no chemical products involved whatsoever,” he explained. Instead, the winery relies on “dynamized ” (specially mixed and prepared) water and plants such as nettle and chamomile to optimize growing conditions.
“Biodynamics also introduces a spiritual dimension between the land and those who work on it, bringing an awareness to their work, how they relate to their environment and the impact on everything around them,” he said.
Ever the evangelist, Bertrand has inspired droves of winemakers to try biodynamic viniculture, all while making it more economical.
“Biodynamic winemaking helps to reinforce the taste of the terroir and to provide to the consumer a multidimensional experience of tasting and food/wine pairing,” he said.
Bertrand believes that biodynamics, while more expensive, is “crucial” for future generations. “We need to respect the planet and find the best way to live in peace with each other. Fighting global warming is imperative.”
Bertrand, unsurprisingly, is extremely passionate about his profession.
“The unarguable results of biodynamics, and the complexity of its interactions, forces us to question our actions and to become aware of a force higher than ourselves, which connects us to the world of minerals, plants and animals and makes us accountable, so as to help us organize our life as part of a community,” he enthused.
Bertrand is a hugely successful winemaker in Languedoc, a larger-than-life character who has spent the past 42 years making wine. He started helping out on his father’s estates, before taking over the family business at age 22 after his dad's sudden death.
His father was beloved in the region and known as a pioneer. The first to put wines in barrels in the 1970s, the elder Bertrand had built a reputation for creating and marketing super premium wines during a time when Languedoc —the world's largest winemaking region — was dismissed as producing mediocre, mass-market wines.
It’s only been in the past few decades that Languedoc has sloughed off this stigma and started to become synonymous with “good value” wines: high-quality vintages at reasonable prices. The Bertrands are one of the reasons for this change in perception.
“My father taught me all the different varieties of wine from the South of France. I was a very young winemaker. ... I knew I had to keep the best of his message but also wanted to create my own experience, going one step beyond,” he said.
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Employing the rigorous rules governing the holistic, sustainable philosophy, Bertrand's winemaking process follows lunar and star charts and esoteric pagan rituals such as burying a manure-filled cow horn in the fields. While some dismiss the technique as New Age hocus pocus, Bertrand’s heightened awareness of the soil's health and a meaningful link to nature is undeniable.
As much as he is dedicated to southern France, Bertrand is intrigued by the idea of making wine in California. “I love coming here and Paso Robles. There are many great experts here who make good wine, like Robert Mondavi.”
For all his sophistication, Bertrand is a simple man. “Every day, I like to enjoy my life and do my best. Wine is the ultimate experience in life; you need to go deep. ... It’s important to be involved in all the details.”
Gérard Bertrand wines are available at Mission Wine & Spirits, Everson Royce and Heritage Fine Wines.